After weeks of waiting, haggling and dealing, the non-waiver trade deadline will arrive at 4 p.m. Eastern. For contenders looking to upgrade ahead of the stretch run and sellers looking to build toward 2015 and beyond, these are the final hours to make a move without having to go through the complicated waiver process. And it didn't take long for the blockbusters to start being finalized.
Will David Price be traded?
When this story was first published shortly after midnight on Thursday, Jon Lester's status was as big a question as Price's, if not bigger. But less than 10 hours later, the Lester question was answered, as Boston shipped its ace lefthander, along with outfielder Jonny Gomez, to Oakland for slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and a draft pick. The Red Sox may not be done making moves, either. They've dropped eight of their last 10 and sit 13 games back in the AL East, and the "For Sale" sign has clearly been hung up at Fenway Park.
There’s no questioning Lester’s bonafides; at 30, he’s having arguably his best season of his nine-year career, with a 2.52 ERA, 156 ERA+ and 9.4 strikeout-per-nine ratio in 143 innings. He can be a free-agent at the end of the season.
As of late Tuesday, it looked like Lester would stay in the AL East, with reports surfacing that the Orioles were close on a deal for the three-time All-Star. Those rumors were shot down, however, with Baltimore general manager Dan Duquette insisting that nothing was in the works regarding Lester or any other pitcher. A bunch of other teams were bandied about as suitors for Lester too, among them the Cardinals, Dodgers, Mariners, Marlins and Pirates.
As for the AL East’s other top lefty, the scuttlebutt going into Thursday seemed to be that the Rays were going to hang onto Price. Unlike Boston, Tampa Bay still has a shot at postseason contention, but unfortunately for the Rays, those hopes took a hit on Wednesday. A 4-0 loss to Milwaukee — which Price started — dropped Tampa Bay eight games behind Baltimore in the East and 5 1/2 back in the wild card. By Baseball Prospectus’ odds, the Rays had just a 15 percent chance to make the playoffs even before Wednesday’s defeat.
Whether or not the team reaches the postseason, Price’s contract status — he has one more year of club control before free agency — means there’s no rush for the Rays to move him. Instead, Tampa Bay can wait until the offseason and spend the winter collecting offers, or make one last run with Price and do this dance again at the trade deadline in 2015. Should the Rays be inclined to move him today, though, they already have two interested parties: the Dodgers and Cardinals. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported that those teams had been by far the most aggressive in pursuit of the 2012 AL Cy Young winner, and each boasts an impressive group of prospects it could deal for him, including, potentially, outfielders Joc Pederson of Los Angeles and Oscar Taveras of St. Louis.
Which bubble teams will make a move?
The Marlins making deals at the deadline? It’s not as far-fetched as you might think. Miami has reportedly been calling around and asking about pitchers, including Lester, fellow Red Sox rotation-mate John Lackey, the Padres' Ian Kennedy and the White Sox' John Danks. The Marlins are postseason long-shots -- they faced a 4 1/2-game game deficit in the NL wild-card race even before losing to Washington on Wednesday, and BP gives them a mere five-percent chance to get there. But Miami apparently believes that it has a real chance and could end up pulling off a surprise deal.
In the AL, a few teams face shaky playoff odds, most notably the Mariners. Seattle has stumbled since the All-Star break, going just 4-8, including a complete-game shutout loss to Corey Kluber and the Indians on Wednesday. But the Mariners are just three games out in the wild card, so expect Seattle to be a buyer on Thursday, especially if it can somehow land an impact bat in a market that’s thus far been devoid of them. The Mariners did take a chance on Kendrys Morales last week, but his weak season so far — .219/.250/.302 with just one homer — won’t be enough. Seattle badly needs help at first base and in the outfield.
The Yankees are another team likely to pick up a player if the price is right. They have already pulled off separate deals for Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley but still trail in the wild card race by three games. New York's roster has holes everywhere, but the biggest problem areas are the starting rotation, second base and rightfield. Given the team’s paucity of prospects or MLB-ready young players, GM Brian Cashman will likely stick to the fringes of the market and offer salary relief for sellers. As such, the Yankees have been connected to mid-tier options like Danks and fellow starter Brett Anderson, as well as outfielders Marlon Byrd and Josh Willingham.
As for the other teams outside the postseason picture, the Indians may have moved into seller mode after dealing Justin Masterson to St. Louis on Wednesday, while the Royals are apparently in the search for starting pitching help. In the NL, the Reds have fallen out of the race in the Central and haven’t made any reported noise in the market so far.
Which contender will make the biggest splash?
Of the three AL division leaders, Baltimore seems most likely to swing a deal on Thursday, if the team’s pursuit of Lester is any indication. Wednesday’s injury news about top prospect Hunter Harvey, though, will likely dampen any chance of the Orioles picking up a marquee name. The rotation remains Baltimore’s most pressing need, though catcher and second base could use upgrades as well. But if the Orioles are out on Lester, it’s hard to see where else they can turn, as the team hasn’t been linked to the likes of Lackey, Kennedy or Danks.
Out West, Oakland was mentioned as a potential suitor for Lester, but the earlier deal for Samardzija has probably left the Athletics without enough to offer Boston for its ace. The Angels made moves in the last few weeks to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jason Grilli, Huston Street and Joe Thatcher, and have been linked to Kennedy, but they don’t seem to be making a play for anyone at the moment. And in the AL Central, the Tigers likely finished their deadline shopping after acquiring reliever Joakim Soria last week.
In the NL, most of the deadline focus will be on the Dodgers, whose combination of endless resources and three of the game’s top prospects — Pederson, Corey Seager and Julio Urias — make them a popular potential landing spot for Lester, Price or Phillies southpaw Cole Hamels. Los Angeles could also swing a deal the other way, sending out Matt Kemp or Carl Crawford to reduce its overcrowded outfield. It’s unlikely that either Kemp (who is owed $109 million after this year on a contract that runs through 2019) or Crawford ($62.25 million after this year through 2017) would be moved before the deadline because of their massive salaries, but expect the Dodgers to try hard on both.
The Giants are also reportedly scouring the market for another arm to prop up a beleaguered staff. With Matt Cain potentially done for the year with an elbow problem, San Francisco could use a starter, but the team may have used up its most worthwhile trade chips in picking up Jake Peavy from the Red Sox last week. The Giants are also reportedly looking at help at second base; San Francisco has checked in on the Cubs' Emilio Bonifacio and the Indians' Asdrubal Cabrera.
Things have been quiet in the NL East, and in the Central, the Brewers were briefly linked to Lester but are apparently no longer pursuing him. The Cardinals and Pirates, who entered Wednesday tied with Milwaukee in the loss column, are searching for pitching and both have been connected to Lester. St. Louis just added Masterson but may want another rotation piece, while Pittsburgh has looked at Kennedy and apparently moved on from the Phillies' A.J. Burnett.